"...THE RAW AND THE WICKED, THE FLAWED AND THE STRIVING..." :AN INTERVIEW WITH GARY PHILLIPS
Last year, The Unvarnished Gary Phillips, a collection of the master storytellers short work, was released. The stories range in genres and cross pollinate as well. Gary took a few questions concerning the collection as well as some upcoming releases.
SCOTT MONTGOMERY: How are these stories unvarnished?
GARY PHILLIPS: Unvarnished is a bit of a catch-all, I do like to think my stories are honed and ready for prime time. But in the sense they offer situations and characters of the raw and the wicked, the flawed and the striving, there is an unfinished quality to some of their psychological makeup or could be in their lives and what is it they want. The Korean war fighter pilot denied the ability to use his skills in the civilian world because of racism yet still feels the need for speed in “Demon of the Track.” The undercover agent among the aliens whose been longing for a place to belong to in “Grag’s Last Escape.” That sort of thing.
S.M.: What do you like about writing in the short fiction form?
G.P: I feel freer in the short form to mashup the genres; crime fiction crossed with sci-fi, the hot rodder and the Aztec vampire. For sure there’s plenty of novels that do that so maybe for me these are all tryouts to writing such in long form. But there is something satisfying about drawing the reader in for the ride, hitting the highs, maybe a twist or two along the way, then the payoff.
S.M.: You introduce a lot of characters that could have their own series. Is there anyone you'd like to continue with?
G.P.: Aw man, yeah, I’ve been toying with doing something more with Comstock, the hitman who can astral project his form to scout his targets. Deacon Coles the pilot turned hot rod racer set in late ‘50s Venice, that cries for more excursions with him. My female PI set in the ‘70s, Sable Reese, for dang sure I can turn out more stories featuring her, probably even a novel. Time waits for no one so, you know, gotta line these projects up.
S.M.: The two words I associate with you are "politics" and "pulp". Where you influenced by any writers who blended those or was it a reaction to the genre work that was well crafted but had a racist bent?
G.P.: Arguably isn’t pulp and politics in Dumas’ books? Swashbuckling heroes and heroines, intrigues among the royals, grand romances and evil conniving villains. Apparently one of his lesser known works is Taking the Bastille. The attack on the prison where many a political enemy of the monarchs was held signaled the beginning of the French Revolution. He has an orphan boy (who as in some of his other novels is actually a royal) and farmer as heroes. Too as you suggest, in the old pulps if a person of color was around, they were on the margins and stereotypically portrayed. Or if centerstage, the “yellow peril” as in Fu Manchu and Wu Fang.
There were exceptions as in the married black couple, Josh and Rosabel Newton, who were part of the Avenger’s crew and would go undercover as domestics, yet we the reader knew they were college educated. One of the Shadow’s agents was black, Jericho Druke, though he wasn’t used much in the stories. But it is the case when the Doc Savage and Shadow pulps were reprinted as mass market paperbacks, the writing of Lester Dent who wrote the Doc books and Walter Gibson who penned the Shadow had an influence on me. The wild plots, the outsized super-villains, the roller coaster pacing, took hold of me then and hasn’t let go.
S.M.: You have another One Shot Harry book coming out soon. What can you tell us about it?
G.P: Ash Dark as Night is the sequel to One-Shot Harry. The story starts smackdab in the middle of the action, specifically the Watts riots (or rebellion depending on your socio-political bent) of August 1965 here in Los Angeles. Crime photog and part-time sleuth Harry Ingram is in the thick of it and captures in a black and white still a volatile incident involving the police. He gets his head beaten in for his troubles, his camera wrecked and the film goes missing. And that’s just the first chapter. The book drops in April. And on the subject of riots, let me mention that in May, also from Soho Crime will be the 30th anniversary edition of Violent Spring, my first published novel. The book introduced ‘90s private eye Ivan Monk. That mystery was set in the aftermath of the ’92 Rodney King riots, and this new edition will include some extras such as an essay I’d written back then and a lovely intro by my friend and fellow crime fiction writer, Walter Mosley.